I recently came across an article written by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. and John Nolen that breaks down the different types of public spaces that are required of large cities into six categories. The article entitled The Normal Requirements of American Towns and Cities in Respect to Public Open Spaces was originally printed in 1906 in the Charities and the Commons journal of social work, and provides an interesting – though sometimes dated – overview of what is required of an effective urban park system. I figured it might be interesting to overview the categories and attempt to apply the framework to Oklahoma City. We’ll start with the first category today, and I will try to knock out the rest in subsequent days.
I. STREETS, BOULEVARDS AND PARKWAYS
The first category of public space has to due exclusively with transportation infrastructure and how it can be effectively designed and utilized as park and/or open space.
Regular sidewalks and consistent street tree coverage turn Heritage Hills’ streets into great open spaces.
From the article:
All communities, no matter what their size may be, need to regard the plan, character and appearance of their streets.
Streets are without a doubt the most ubiquitous of open spaces and yet their quality as such is often quite poor. The number of streets in Oklahoma City that you would enjoy simply for the quality of the open space alone are few and far between. Older neighborhoods with good sidewalks and consistent street trees – like those found in Heritage Hills – provide some hope that OKC’s streets can do more to enhance our quality of life as an open space, not simply a route of transportation. However, on the whole, the lack of street trees and little attention paid to the quality of space, make Oklahoma City’s streets substandard, especially downtown where they have opportunity to be most utilized as pedestrian spaces.
Paris’s Champs Élysées is the world’s most famous boulevard.
Boulevards are usually arranged formally with rows of shade trees and parallel ways for those on foot and on wheels.
Beyond that which standard streets provide, boulevards allow for a more substantial contribution to a city’s open space. The authors point out that boulevards should be arranged formally and have paths for BOTH pedestrians and cars – such as Paris’s Champs Élysées (pictured above).
Classen Boulevard in Oklahoma City lacks the formality, trees, and pedestrians improvements that would make it functional as an open space.
As for Oklahoma City, the best example I can think of is Classen Boulevard, though in reality it is little more than a wide street with a median. Classen lacks regular trees plantings and has minimal pedestrian improvements. The street used to feature streetcars traveling down the center median, but today the street is used almost exclusively by cars. Currently, the Core to Shore plans include the replacement of the current I-40 alignment with a multiway boulevard – inspired by the type found in Paris. Hopefully this will provide a great new public space for the city.
Vondel Park in Amsterdam was cited by the author as an example of parkways as open space.
A parkway so far as it can be discriminated from a boulevard, includes more breadth of turf or planted ground and also usually narrow passages of natural scenery of varying widths, giving it a somewhat park-like character and inducing a less formal treatment of the roads, paths and accessory features. Parkways are frequently laid out along streams so as to include the natural beauty of brook or river scenery and to preserve the main surface water channels in public control, thus providing for the adequate and economical regulation of storm drainage and floods.
Edgemere Park utilizes a parkway designed to preserve the creek and floodplain as neighborhood open space.
Using parkways to create park space, manage stormwater, and preserve and enjoy the beauty of streams, was at one time a common practice in OKC. It was a key recommendation of the 1930 Hare & Hare plan and places in OKC like Edgemere Park (pictured above), Sparrow Park, and portions of Grand Boulevard, have great examples of how this type of open space can be effectively implemented. Unfortunately, today we often back up development to streams so that it can not take advantage of the natural beauty or worse, we buy the stream underground in a pipe. There is much to gained from returning to this practice of parkway development.
Would love to get your thoughts on Oklahoma City’s streets as public spaces. Where are we doing a good job? Where can we do better? What are some of your ideas to improve streets in this city?